A quad strain is a muscle injury that results from microscopic tears in the muscle fibers of the quadriceps located on the front of the leg just above the knee. The quadriceps muscle is separated into the rectus femoris, the vastus intermedius, the vastus lateralis, and the vastus medialis. This injury occurs most often from inadequate stretching before running or jumping activities. Treatment of a quad strain depends on the severity of the injury, but usually requires ice packs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications, and rest.
There are three different degrees of quad strain. The first level is the least severe. A person may notice a slight swelling in the area and some pain when moving the affected leg. Usually, a level one quad strain does not impede normal walking ability, although the muscle may feel tight and sore. NSAIDs, applying ice packs alternated with warm moist heat packs to the area, and resting the leg for one to three weeks is the standard treatment for a first level injury.
The second level of quad strain is indicated by a greater degree of swelling in the muscle and pain when moving. Most people are unable to walk without pain with a level two quad strain. The small tears in the muscle fibers may require one to two months to fully heal. Rest, ice packs, moist heat, and anti-inflammatory medications are recommended during the healing period.
Level three quad strains may require surgical intervention to repair the torn muscle fibers. This type of injury makes it nearly impossible to walk without assistance. The muscle may be very swollen and the thigh may have significant bruising. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test may be scheduled to determine if the muscle will need to be surgically repaired. An injury this severe may take three months or more to heal.
While a level three quad strain is healing, the affected limb should be kept elevated as often as possible. Alternating ice packs and moist heat may help soothe some of the discomfort. A topical muscle rub can be used to relieve muscle pain and stiffness. If surgery was required to repair the muscle, prescription pain relievers may be used with NSAIDs during recovery.
Quadriceps strain may be avoided if a person follows a few precautions before engaging in vigorous running, jumping, or kicking activities. Allowing for a few extra minutes of gentle quadriceps stretching exercises may be the most significant step to preventing quad strain from occurring. A short walk before beginning an activity will warm up the muscle fibers and reduce the risk of harm to the muscles.